Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Emergent Marriage Hope

If you want to get really depressed, check out the state of marriage in America as it is reported in nearly every media outlet, Christian and secular. High divorce rates, effects of divorce on children, domestic violence, affairs, substance abuse, and there you go swirling down into the sucking black hole of depression.

If negative marriage news is all you want to focus on, that is fine, but there are some other things to consider when you contemplate the modern (or should I say post-modern) marriage. Yes, marriage is changing and has been changing for four decades. Many of the changes are terrible, to be sure. We live in a divorce culture. However, there is something good emerging in marriage these days that deserves some attention. The flow of American culture has put marriage to the test. The changes from modern to postmodern, from certainty to uncertainty, from one right way to many acceptable ways, from answers to questions, from clarity to mystery, from individualism to community, from 1+1=2 to $*=9 +D. Yes, marriage has been put to the test. But, emerging from this test is a strong and resilient kind of marriage from which we all have something to learn. I have high hopes for the institution of marriage. Here are some of them:

Hope #1: Emergent marriages are the marriages which did not require a law to be in place in order to remain in tact. Certainly divorce was on the increase before no-fault divorce laws cme into being, but these laws opened the flood gates for anyone and everyone to divorce for any and every reason. Even still, millions of people have remained married even when practically all of the legal barriers to ending it were removed. These marriages are not limited to conservative right wing radical Christians who have nothing better to do than oppress women and minorities and try to dominate the world with their political…(chuckle-chuckle). No, these emergent marriages are comprised of people of all faiths and non-faiths. There is something intrinsic about these marriages that requires no outside legal entity to make them stay married. They decide to stay married for other reasons.

Hope #2: Emergent marriages are dynamic. Once upon a time all marriages were the same. There was one way to be married. The husband works outside the home to get money while the wife stays at home to cook and clean. When kids came along, things changed. Wife plus children equaled parenthood. Husband plus children equaled husband.

Things are different these days - for the better. There is no one way to do marriage. Who brings home the bacon is not determined by gender roles. Who takes care of the children, when and for how long is not gender-determined. In fact, with every life change, life stage change or for practically any reason a couple can agree on, the roles in marriage can be renegotiated. The marriages that were too stuck in the one-and-only-way to do marriage experienced crisis. Many just ended. Others experience chronic unhappiness. Emergent marriages are elastic, changing to the form necessary for the situation.

Hope #3: Emergent marriages strive for being good enough. Once upon a time there was a perfect marriage. The ideal for marriage was not merely strived for, which was fine, but it was expected, demanded, even required for the very existence of the marriage. A not-perfect-marriage was reason enough to get out of it. So, people who were not perfectly happy quit their marriage thinking that evacuating the marriage was the key to happiness. Most found that their unhappiness followed them where ever they went.

Emergent marriages have found peace in the imperfect marriage. Perfection is no longer an acceptable requirement for marriage. Good enough is something achievable. It is generous, forward thinking and has a built in grace component that makes the dynamism of Hope #2 possible.

Of the marriages that emerging from the divorce pandemic, these survivors have some excellent qualities and features that could be instructive for those who are looking to get married or who are thinking about ending their current marriage. In fact, the clues found in these emergent marriages are good medicine for any marriage.

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